Roger Federer finds himself in the unusual position of having to re-establish his game.
After an early exit in the second round at Wimbledon, Federer slipped to No. 5 in the ATP rankings. It's the first time he's been ranked outside of the Top Four in 11 years. Makes you wonder, will Federer's Wimbledon struggles carry over to the U.S. hard-court season?
Yes, and it's not because Federer has slipped into some type of funk.
It's because he has fallen and may lack the passion he needs to climb out. He can no longer rely on his superior all-around game to defeat the younger, stronger and hungrier players like Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Forever the perfectionist, Federer is trying to regroup. He entered less prestigious tournaments, Hamburg and Gstaad, in hopes of putting his poor showing at Wimbledon behind him.
However, like someone who sinks too deep in quicksand, Federer could exhaust himself in an effort to emerge from this slump. At his age, the energy used to dig out may prove more problematic than the sand itself.
No longer is he fighting to regain No. 1. His fight is to rejoin the "Big Four."
The points gap between Federer and No. 4 Nadal will be nearly impossible to overcome in time for the U.S. Open. After Wimbledon last year, Nadal didn't enter another tournament. So he has no points to defend, literally nothing to lose.
Federer has 1,000 points to defend in Cincinnati.
Of course Federer could have another Grand Slam title in him. Pete Sampras was 31 and ranked No. 17 when he won his last U.S. Open.
However, Sampras' No. 1 nemesis was Andre Agassi, a guy pretty much the same age. Sampras didn't have to battle the likes of Murray, Nadal and Djokovic, men with multiple Grand Slam titles. He also didn't have to face an onslaught of hard-hitting giants like Juan Martin del Potro, Jerzy Janowicz and Milos Raonic.
Now that Federer is no longer in the Top Four, the chances of meeting one of those guys in earlier rounds is greater.
Reaching tournament finals is getting tougher for Federer. Not reaching them must be getting harder for him to take. Especially since for Federer, finals and titles are the only acceptable outcomes.
Of course you can never count Federer out.
Unfortunately, these days, you can no longer pencil him in.